It’s hard to feel young at heart when you think you look old. For many of us, midlife means unwelcome wrinkles, blotches and creases in our skin.
Until recently, there was little the average woman could do—or afford—that would restore her smooth complexion. But now, new techniques in the fast-growing field of skin rejuvenation can give back a fresher, more youthful appearance.
Even the best efforts won’t completely prevent sagging chins or crow’s-feet. But dermatologists can now reverse some of the effects of normal aging that cause wrinkles and spots with nonsurgical procedures like:
Chemical peels. A special chemical solution removes old surface skin (the epidermis) and allows new, unblemished skin to grow from the underlying dermis layer. The process is done in several steps, two to three weeks apart, to allow healing. Results are usually permanent.
Dermabrasion. Developed a century ago to conceal acne and pox scars, this technique also repairs sun-damaged or blotchy skin. Doctors anesthetize the site and use a high-speed rotating wire or diamond-studded brush to remove the epidermis and part of the dermis. Healing occurs within 10 days and results are permanent.
Laser resurfacing. A carbon dioxide or erbium laser vaporizes the epidermis in precise layers to expose fresh skin from the dermis. Most treatments last eight to 10 years before another is needed. Average healing time is 10 days. Lasers also remove unwanted facial hair.
Fillers. To “reinflate” sunken skin, doctors inject collagen, hyaluronic acid or fat around fine lines near the mouth and chin. The process is nearly pain free, and recovery occurs within hours. Collagen’s results last three to six months, hyaluronic acid six to twelve months, while fat injections last up to a year.
Botox. Highly purified forms of the botulinum toxin A can be injected into wrinkles to help paralyze and flatten the muscles that cause forehead ridges, crow’s-feet and lines between the eyes. Treatments last three to four months and can be repeated.
Still, the most dramatic results require plastic surgery—specifically, rhytidectomy, commonly called a face-lift. This technique relies on the traditional scalpel to lift, remove and tuck sagging skin and muscles so facial wrinkles disappear. Recovery time is usually 14 days, but the results can last up to 10 years.
Plastic surgery has other, more specific uses, too. For instance, does your nose protrude? Rhinoplasty permanently rearranges or removes cartilage in your nose. Do your eyelids droop? Blepharoplasty removes fat and excess skin from the lids, and results last up to 10 years.
Submental lipectomy is surgery beneath the chin that permanently removes fat and tightens the skin so your chin regains its contours. Otoplasty pins back jug-shaped ears. And a forehead lift can elevate your brows and eyelids to keep your forehead crease-free for up to 10 years.
About 109,000 Americans underwent a face-lift in 2005. Another 298,000 had rhinoplasty, and 231,000 had blepharoplasty, which shows how popular these procedures have become. If you’re considering a cosmetic procedure, too, keep these points in mind:
- You pay. Very few health insurers will reimburse you for an elective cosmetic procedure.
- Accidents happen. Though rare, mishaps occur that cause unwanted results, from changed skin color to outright scars. Don’t have any procedure unless you’re convinced your dermatologist or surgeon is board certified, well trained and highly experienced, especially if lasers are involved.
- You may not qualify. Some skin types and conditions won’t respond well to peels, lasers or lifts. Your doctor will make this determination.
- Get answers. Ask questions about the procedure, recovery, pain management and what happens if you aren’t happy with the results.